You couldn’t make up a story like Red Cross intern Myer Tuolee’s. Unlike episodes of “Survivor,” it really happened. Civil war forced him to abandon his education. He had to place his children in a neighbor’s care. He lived for years in refugee camps.
And on May 7, 2017, Myer Nyenmeh Tuolee will receive his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from The Ohio State University.
The words on the diploma can’t begin to tell the story of this one-in-a-million graduate. A refugee from Liberia uprooted by civil war, he has carried his dream of a degree through two refugee camps. He’s transplanted it to a different country, a different culture, where he and his dream are thriving.
Myer was born in a Liberia that had experienced unrest since before its official founding. In 1816, slaves from the United States were given their freedom on the condition that they go to Liberia. These Americo-Liberians governed the original inhabitants of the country. Tension between these two factions was ongoing, erupting into a civil war that lasted from 1989 to 2003.
That civil war interrupted Myer’s plans to become an electrical engineer. He fled to a Red Cross post in the Ivory Coast, and the Red Cross transported him to a Liberian refugee camp in Ghana. There he met Ruth Juty and had a daughter, Myerline.
Ruth’s brother Nathanial Juty, living in the United States, located her in the camp with the help of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. With the church’s help, he brought Ruth and Myerline to Columbus.
Myer, meanwhile, had to uproot himself yet again when the situation in the refugee camp became unstable. He fled to another camp, this one in Guinea. He was able to keep in touch with Ruth throughout this time.
When the refugee office in Columbus learned of Myerline, officials asked who her father was. That question was the beginning of Myer’s journey to the United States. Over the course of four or five years, officials visited him in the camp several times to conduct pre-screening, medical exams, and other procedures necessary for him to come to the United States as a refugee. It was an exhaustive and exhausting process.
In the meantime, Myer had been able to locate the children he’d asked his neighbor to care for. Finally, on September 14, 2009, he arrived in Columbus with them.
Not wanting to leave his degree unfinished, he enrolled at The Ohio State University. Already familiar with the Red Cross through volunteering, he applied for and received an internship in the Community Transportation Department, where he does data entry. Myer also volunteers with Disaster Services and helps with smoke alarm installations.
As a Disaster Action Team volunteer, Myer offers emotional support and practical help to people who have survived home fires. Having lived through unimaginable hardship himself, he is uniquely able to empathize with them. Offering water, shelter, and most important, a listening ear, he can be the best part of someone’s worst day.
“I have great passion for helping people in difficult circumstances,” he says.
Myer Tuolee’s resilient spirt has brought him through the nightmare of civil war and refugee camps to the American dream. Through his service with the Red Cross, he now nurtures that resilient spirit in others.